Willis & Company Ltd.

Willis & Company Ltd. Montreal piano retailer and manufacturer. At first a retailer of sewing machines, the firm was established in Montreal by A.P. (Alexander Parker) Willis (1845-1934) following his move in 1871 from his native Nova Scotia.

Willis & Company Ltd.

Willis & Company Ltd. Montreal piano retailer and manufacturer. At first a retailer of sewing machines, the firm was established in Montreal by A.P. (Alexander Parker) Willis (1845-1934) following his move in 1871 from his native Nova Scotia. In the mid-1880s the piano and organ trade was developed, and by 1888 sewing machines were discontinued. Willis & Co retailed the major Canadian pianos and the Knabe piano from Baltimore. Beginning in 1889 the firm briefly distributed in Quebec the Emerson piano from Boston, and about 1900 it acquired a majority of the shares of the Lesage &Fils piano factory at Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville (renamed Ste-Thérèse), near Montreal, to engage in its own manufacturing. The firm sold about 2000 pianos in 1907, including its own and those of the Dominion, Newcombe, and Knabe companies. After the demise of the Newcombe Piano Co, Willis & Co acquired the rights to and continued to produce pianos under the Newcombe name. Willis & Co also represented Dominion Organs, the Cecilian grand piano of Detroit, and the Cable Co of Chicago. Between 1910 and 1925, retail outlets were opened in several Canadian cities, and in March 1914 the main retail centre was established in Montreal at the corner of Drummond St and Ste-Catherine St W. By then the firm also represented Chickering pianos in Canada and the Ampico player piano. The Willis grand piano, first built in 1925 for the company's golden jubilee, continued to be sold into the 1960s. The company's five-year production fluctuated over the years, ranging from 10,000 (1915-20) down to 850 (1930-5). In 1966 1600 instruments were built. The Willis catalogue of the mid-1970s included eight types of upright piano. The company was sold by the family in 1967. It went bankrupt in 1979.


Further Reading

  • Kelly, Wayne. Downright Upright: A History of the Canadian Piano Industry (Toronto 1991)